Away Day No.3 (The League Leaders)

This was my last Away Day for the season. I have been to more than three away games (ten in fact) but I only started writing about them a month ago. We (AFC Wimbledon)still have one more away match on Tuesday the first of May against Doncaster (the match that should have been played on Easter Monday) but I can’t make it due to work.

It was an early start, Wigan is a long way up the M6. We met up at Fat Boy’s for our normal pre-coach trip breakfast. Breakfast was fine but there was definitely a sense of foreboding in the air. Even Stevie our eternal glass overflowing optimist was saying things like ” If we can come away with a draw I’ll be happy.” the rest of us were more along the lines of “If we can avoid another 4-0 defeat we’ll be happy.” (They beat us 4-0 in the game at Kingsmeadow before Christmas). Wigan, who knocked Manchester City out of the cup, and are top of the league and already promoted could have tied up the title if they beat us and other results went their way. We on the other hand still needed at least two points from our last three games to be mathematically safe from relegation.

On to the coach for the five-hour trek up north. In retrospect I think we should have taken the train, and will do next time, but that won’t be for at least a couple of seasons.
We had a stop at a service station on the M6. As well as ourselves there were fans from quite a few other clubs grabbing a coffee. Brighton were traveling up to play Burnley, Portsmouth were off to Bury, and going in the opposite direction Rochdale were off to Oxford No hassle, but a bit of banter because Portsmouth and Rochdale are in the same league as ourselves. Brighton being a Premier League club just ignored us.

We arrived at the ground about one o’clock and got off the bus about one thirty because a jobsworth steward insisted that we couldn’t park in the place marked “Coaches” in big white letters. So we had another tour of the suburbs of Wigan to get to the place where we were allowed to park. Fred and Barry, who had come up by train saw the coach on its mystery tour and called us to say they were in a pub about five minutes walk from the ground so we wandered along to join them for a pre-match pint.

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The ground, The DW Stadium, was the smartest (photo above) we’ve been to this season (apart from Wembley), but then it’s not all that long ago that Wigan were a Premier League side. The ground feels a bit big for them. It was their last home game of the season and they had the chance of clinching the title, but it was still only half full. They do share the ground with the local Rugby League team the Wigan Warriors who I think tend to draw bigger crowds.

Our team selection seemed to be dictated by the players we had fit. No Wardrobes*. Three attacking midfielders and our right-footed left back to provide a bit of muscle. As Stevie said “When Harry Forrester and Dean Parratt seem to be the defensive midfield we could have problems” I’m not sure either of them can spell the word “defend”. We lined up 4-4-2 or possibly 4-1-3-2. With Callum Kennedy (who is left footed) slotting in at left back.

The game started pretty evenly. They were trying to pressure us at every opportunity, but we seemed to contain their attack reasonably comfortably and we always looked dangerous on the break. Twenty four minutes in LTB** latched on to a slight mistake by their centre back, fed The Pig*** and The Pig did score. 1-0 to the Wombles.  To be honest I had not expected that. A few minutes later we could have gone two up, but their keeper produced a brilliant finger tip save to push Dean Parratt’s shot over the bar.  They came back at us, but we were fairly comfortable in defence, and George Long was having a magnificent game in goal. The first half ended with us 1-0 up.

At the start of the second half Wigan threw everything they had at us but our defence was holding, even if there were a few heart in the mouth moments. We could have gone 2-0 up at about the 60 minute mark. Harry Forrester made a good interception just inside our half, and had a clear run to the edge of the penalty box. He had Lyle Taylor unmarked to his right and Joe Piggot unmarked to his left, but chose to try a shot instead and put it over the bar.

They equalised shortly afterwards. I thought at the time our centre back Deji Oshilaja was fouled in the build up, and having seen the video replay a few times I am even more convinced that he was, but neither the referee nor his assistants seemed to see it. I’ll embed the video, see if you agree with me.  From my point of view (admittedly biased) the referee seemed to ignore a lot of Wigan’s fouls, but gave everything against us.

There was another twenty minutes of almost constant Wigan pressure to endure, but we held out for a hard-earned draw. Possibly we could have won, but given the pressure that Wigan put us under for almost all the second half a draw was a fair result. As Stevie said at Fat Boys we came a way with a draw and we were happy. Even happier when we discovered that The Franchise (AKA Milton Keynes)**** had been relegated.

It all made for a contented trip back to South West London


*Our three defensive midfield players Tom Soares, Liam Trotter and Jimmy Abdou are collectively known as The Wardrobes, due to the perception of a certain lack of mobility among a section of our fans.
**Lyle Taylor (Baby) from the song we sing for him:
Lyle Taylor Baby, Lyle Taylor Woa oh o ( to the tune of “Don’t You Love Me Baby”).
*** Joe Piggot is (affectionately) referred to as The Pig.
**** The history of Wimbledon FC being uprooted and moved to Milton Keynes and the subsequent formation of AFC Wimbledon is well told in this Wikipedia article

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